May 26, 2024

Bettiann Gardner, a prominent figure for African-American women in the business world, has passed away at the age of 93 in Chicago. She and her husband established the “Soft Sheen” hair care company in 1964, initially operating it from their South Side Chicago home. Beyond her contributions to the hair care industry, Gardner was recognized as a trailblazing businesswoman and arts patron. Her daughter, Terri Gardnee, fondly remembers her as not just a successful entrepreneur but as a remarkable mother.

Bettiann succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease on December 19. Her husband, Ed Gardner, had passed away in March. Together, they built Soft Sheen into one of the largest African-American owned hair care manufacturing companies in the United States. Bettiann, originating from working-class roots in Chicago, played a pivotal role in reshaping the beauty industry for people of color, with their company boasting nearly a thousand employees at its 87th Street headquarters.

Bettiann Gardner, first female Chicago Bulls co-owner, dies at 93 - Chicago  Sun-Times

In 1998, the Gardeners sold Soft Sheen to the cosmetics giant L’Oréal. However, Bettiann continued to make history by becoming the first female co-owner of the Chicago Bulls when the couple acquired a share in the 1980s. Beyond sports, they revitalized the Avalon Theater, transforming it into the New Regal Theater in 1987. Additionally, Bettiann co-founded the Chicago Sinfonietta, an orchestra promoting diversity in the music industry.

Soft Sheen Co-Founder Bettiann Gardner, Trailblazer in Black Hair Care, Dies  at 93 | Chicago Defender

Despite maintaining a more private life in recent years, Gardner’s impact on business, philanthropy, and the arts remains unforgettable. Her legacy extends as a source of inspiration for working mothers and women, emphasizing the possibilities with effort, energy, and perseverance. Bettiann is survived by her daughter Terri, other siblings, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Private funeral services will be held to commemorate her life.

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